Does your child get off track? Here’s a game plan for getting back on!

Dear Carrie

What can I do when my son gets off track and drags out his day?

We figured out a schedule for our school days last week that worked really well! (Thanks Heart of Dakota – great idea!) We did our son’s English/DITHOR mostly orally and had set blocks of time for work. I thought we’d solved the main issue, which was my oldest dragging out his day and getting off track by complaining and not doing his writing. Today was going really well until he didn’t get his cursive done. He said he would do it during his free time. I said okay, not thinking it would be a big deal. Then, we got to science, which was a notebooking assignment. He had to copy a kind of long Bible verse. But, he had not been required to do much writing at all today. I mean, is that really asking too much?!?

He has good handwriting. I think he just doesn’t want to do it. He has cried, complained, said he was too tired (so I had him go to bed for a bit to rest, which got him further off track). Now, he has lost outside time. He said he didn’t want to go out today anyway (so not true – he loves to be outside). Now, I’m taking away his tv time (sometimes they can watch one show after nap). How do I fix this? I like to get school done, but he is again getting off track and dragging things out. I would appreciate any suggestions! He is such a good boy and very bright, usually obedient. It just seems he doesn’t want to do any amount of writing. How can I keep my son on track and happily moving on through his school day?


“Ms. Please Help My Son Stop Getting Off Track and Dragging Out His School Day”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son Stop Getting Off Track and Dragging Out His School Day,”

With my boys, once we began implementing a schedule, I looked at the times on the schedule as a general rule of thumb rather than legalistic times. So, for instance if something on the schedule is meant to take 15 minutes, as long as the child is working, I allow a bit more time if needed (like 5-15 extra minutes). Once I can see we are stretching beyond that and are headed toward getting far enough off track that we soon can’t recover, I jump in and help the child recover if at all possible.

Getting Back on Track and Happily Moving Through the Day

To get back on track, I might do all of an English lesson orally, assigning none to be done on paper. Or, I may write out the math problems from the textbook to help the child move more quickly. I might downsize a math assignment a bit if needed. Or, I might put away or set out a child’s materials open to the needed pages to move him along. I may write a younger child’s answers to DITHOR, while he dictates them to me to save time.

Or, I might sit right by a child pointing out text or redirecting while he works to keep him on task. I might read directions aloud from an older child’s guide while he follows them. Or, I might send the kiddos for a much needed break, while I quickly check their work to see why they might have gotten off track. Anyway, these are just a few ideas of how you can partner with your kiddos to keep them on track and happily moving through their day.

Fixing an Off-Track School Day with a “Finish School” Time

Next, I’ll share that I have a “finish school” time in the afternoon for my third son. This is a 45 minute block of time that is a part of his schedule (after his lunch, recess, and work in the warehouse break). This is a time where he returns to his schoolwork and finishes anything he did not finish earlier during the school day. This works well for him right now! He has learned he prefers to get it done then rather than have it left in the evening. However, when we were training him in diligent work habits when he was younger, we had a work time in the evening after supper when he worked with his Dad on anything he had not finished during the school day with me. This worked well, as it was Dad who enforced the finishing rather than me!

Getting Your Son’s Handwriting Back on Track

In your son’s case, when he begins melting down over the handwriting, I would jump in to stem the tide right away. You can say something like… “Alright, I can see that you are overwhelmed with the amount of copy work today! You will have to work up to doing all of it eventually. However, to help you today, since it is a longer passage, I will write the first sentence (or two) to get you started. Then, you need to dry your eyes and get going with the rest. Let’s see how much you can get done then in 10 minutes if you work hard the whole time.” Often, once kiddos see the length reducing before they begin, they feel more able to do it. This is true of any assignment they find overwhelming!

Encourage diligent work, but still require the work to be done.

Then, head away to do something else after setting the 10 minute timer. Be sure he knows he doesn’t have to finish in that amount of time. He just needs to work diligently. If you return and he has shown progress, he can either finish (if he’s close to done) or set it aside to do the rest later. If he has chosen not to progress in the 10 minutes, simply let him know this means he’ll have to finish it later. Then, set the work aside to be done at the later time you’ve designated for leftover work (either in the evening with Dad or in the late afternoon).

Partner with your child, but if a consequence is still needed, award it only one time in the day.

If he does not work hard during the leftover work time, then you award the consequence at that time. This means you are giving the child every chance to succeed without drawing battle lines all throughout the day. You’ll only have one time that you award the consequence. You want your child to see you are partnering with them to get their work done instead of lying in wait to take away privileges. (Even though you really aren’t, they see it that way!)

Also, if the child ends up with quite a pile of work to finish during the “leftover work” time, both you and your husband (and your child) will be able to see that the day wasn’t very productive. You can discuss ways to do better the next day then. But again, you are partnering with the child to help them be successful. Anyway, these are just some thoughts you can ponder to see what might work in your family when your son gets off track.



Is answering questions an important skill? Or, can we replace it with narrating?

Dear Carrie

If my daughter narrates better than she answers questions, should I focus on improving her skill of properly answering questions, or should I let her narrate instead?

We are reading Tornado from the Emerging Reader’s Set. I’ll ask my daughter the follow up questions, and she will often not know the answers. She’ll ask if she can narrate instead. Then, she’ll give a beautiful oral narration. She’s like this with Bible too. She can almost never answer the questions in Bigger Hearts for His Glory‘s Bible study. She does have auditory processing and visual perception issues. I don’t know if that could be at play. So, if my daughter narrates better than she answers questions, should I let her narrate instead?


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should Let Her Narrate or Focus on the Skill of Answering Questions Better”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should Let Her Narrate or Focus on the Skill of Answering Questions Better,”

Let me begin by saying it is wonderful that your daughter is able to narrate well! I’ll also share that it isn’t uncommon for kiddos to have an inclination toward either narrations or answering questions. This is because each type of assignment appeals to a different type of learner and requires a different thought process. Questions often have the expectation of one right answer, whereas narration allows kiddos to choose to share what they took from the story and focus on that. Narration is more open-ended. Both types of assignments are important to do, as different skills are learned.

Some learners prefer to answer questions with one right answer, while other learners prefer to give more open-ended narrations.

So, as we look at learners who are more comfortable in knowing exactly what to do and how to do it, and who thrive on one right answer, we can see that questions will appeal to these types of children. On the other hand, as we look at kiddos who are more free-flowing through their day, who do not like to be restricted, and who enjoy creativity, we can see that narrations will appeal to these types of children.

If children struggle with answering questions, you can let them know the questions prior to reading.

In looking at the challenges the questions are providing for your daughter, it would help for your child to know the questions prior to reading. Just be aware that sharing the questions prior to reading, will put your child’s focus wholly on finding the answers to those questions as she reads. So, if you shift gears and then ask her to narrate after reading she may be lost.

As children move through Heart of Dakota’s guides, they eventually improve and learn to work well within their weaker area.

Usually as kiddos travel through Heart of Dakota, they eventually get to the point where they learn to work within their weaker area well. This means that kiddos that weren’t born narrators can learn to narrate well. Likewise, kiddos who have a tough time answering questions can learn to excel in that area too. It just takes time, often years! So, be encouraged that while a processing disorder may definitely play a role in how quickly a child progresses in a weak area, all kiddos will have some struggles in any area that does not come naturally to their learning and personality style. As always, when we are pondering a child’s learning progress, it is hard to know where an actual disorder ends and where the diversity of a “typical” childhood personality or learning-style begins.



Should I have my more practical son do MTMM’s drawing and nature study?

Dear Carrie

Should I have my more practical son do MTMM’s drawing and nature study?

We are looking ahead to homeschooling next year using Heart of Dakota Missions to Modern Marvels looks like a great fit for my 13 year-old son. He is actually quite excited. However, he tells me he does not want to do the nature study and Draw and Write Through History. Being a practical kid, he prefers to build and take things apart. I am on the fence about this. I’ve heard there is a reason for everything in Heart of Dakota. Can you tell me a little bit more about the drawing and the Nature study in MTMM? Thank you in advance.


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide About the Drawing and the Nature Study for My Practical Kid”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide About the Drawing and the Nature Study for My Practical Kid,”

Your question brought to mind a comment my husband made the other day which I found vastly interesting. He said that it is such a blessing our boys are learning to sketch and draw through Draw and Write Through History and their nature journals. When I asked him to explain, he said our sons will need this skill more in their lives than they think. He said that when doing his lighting layouts (my hubby did lighting layouts for hospitals, parking ramps, commercial office buildings, banks, etc. before moving to run HOD full-time), he always felt challenged to accurately draw what he was seeing. He would have found it so much easier had he been taught to sketch well.

People often need to draw as a part of their day-to-day work within their profession.

His comment led me to think of how often people need to draw as a part of their profession or as a part of their day-to-day work. The more I thought about it, the more amazed I was at how often I could think of people (in all different professions) doing this! For example, through the years various medical doctors (and just recently my vestibular rehabilitation therapist who drew a picture of my inner ear to explain its function to me) have sketched organs or parts of the body to show medical conditions or problems they were addressing within my kiddos (or myself). Then, I was thinking about when we first met with our building contractor. As we were brainstorming, he began to draw rough sketches of the building plans for our new warehouse for an architect to interpret.

Our sons often put their drawing and sketching skills from HOD to practical use.

When we met with the man from whom we were buying our land for our warehouse, he drew out a quick sketch of the lot for us and labeled its general dimensions (as we were looking). As we were planning how we wanted our warehouse to look, we had my second oldest son draw a sketch of it to show to the building contractor. Our son could do this quickly (and better than my husband or I could do), as he has gone through HOD’s entire guide line-up and can actually sketch because of it!

When I went to redo my bedroom (for the first time in over 15 years), I brought a sketch of the room, labeled with dimensions of my existing pieces of furniture. We had my boys make a sketch of this, with measurements, and text it to me on my phone, so I’d have it with me as I was shopping.

I use drawing and sketching in planning our guides’ covers, layouts, and notebooking pages.

When I plan the way I want a guide to lay out, I sketch it out on paper and hand write in the boxes general notes and formatting. I keep this sample layout of a day as a ready reference the entire time I write the guide, so I can see at a glance what each box includes and any rotational items. When I send my graphic designer the layout of the cover for each new guide, I draw a sketch of where I want each item I desire on the cover to go. I do the same when I lay out the notebooking pages for him! My sketching skills are not fabulous, yet my graphic designer can tell what I’m thinking and even the mood I’m wanting to create based on my sketches.

For many kiddos, drawing can be thought of as a practical life skill instead of an art skill.

Anyway, these are just a few random ways that drawing has been used in my life lately. So, before you skip the drawing lessons, do your kiddos a favor and look at it as a life skill instead of an art skill. Think of it as an opportunity they may never have again to hone a skill that is much more useful than it appears at first glance. No, we won’t all be artists, but yes, we will all need the sketching skill at various times in our lives!

In Closing

P.S. I had to smile as I was just ready to click “submit” on this post! My older son just arrived in my room with a sketch of a box with partitions. He drew this out to see what he needs to buy to hold electric cars. One of his brothers accidentally broke a few of the cars by shoving them in a box to store them. My son desires a solution for this problem (since the cars are his)! So, he found a storage container that will work with the sketch and is off to purchase it. He was just showing me to be sure I was alright with buying this storage container (I’d told him if he came up with a solution, I would fund it if it wasn’t very expensive). Anyway, just another quick 3-D sketching moment put to practical use!



How can I improve my 11-year-old’s writing and independence in CTC?

Dear Carrie

What can I do to improve my 11-year-old son’s writing and level of independence in CTC?

My 11-year-old son is combined with his advanced 12-year-old sister in Creation to Christ. Writing is hard for him, so I write down the events as I read the history. Then, he uses that list to type his written narration. He needs so much hand holding! He does have some learning issues, as well as dysgraphia. My kids were not independent in Preparing Hearts. My goal in CTC was to gradually have them gain independence, as we moved along. So, they read the science, but I’ve still been reading aloud the history. My daughter could read the history and understand it. But, my son could not! He’s even struggling reading Gentle Ben in DITHOR. I just don’t want school to be frustrating for him. He LOVES history and geography! I want him to continue to do so. Help! What can I do to improve my son’s writing and independence?


“Ms. Please Help My Son in CTC Improve His Writing and Independence”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son in CTC Improve His Writing and His Independence,”

Thanks so much for sharing about your situation. In looking at your kiddos, how important is it for you to keep them together? The reason I ask is because you could consider having your son go back and do Preparing Hearts without his older sibling. He could do the history readings independently, as well as the science and independent history box as much as possible. As he didn’t do these things independently before, it is possible it won’t feel like so much of a repeat. Plus, when you read material to yourself and follow directions in the guide on your own, often the assignment will turn out differently.

Doing all of the projects, activities, and written assignments in Preparing Hearts could improve his work in all the future guides.

Did your son do pretty much all of the projects, activities, and written assignments in Preparing (or did you downsize, skip, or change assignments to fit him better)? The reason I ask is because if you did downsize, skip, or change it may not be as much of a repeat as you’d think for him to do Preparing. Plus, it is possible that in the long haul this will be a better fit for him for all the future guides which come after Preparing.

Your daughter can begin reading the CTC history to herself, as well do the rest of the “I” boxes independently.

As far as your older child goes, I would have her gain more independence by starting to read the CTC history to herself now, since she is able to do it. I would continue having her read her science on her own. I would also encourage you to have her do all of the ‘I’ independent boxes as much on her own as possible, with help from you when she hits a roadblock. You can go over directions with her, but let her have the guide to work on her ‘I’ independent boxes as much as she can on her own. I want to encourage you that this will bless all of you eventually. Your daughter will feel more grown-up, and you will have more time to be with your son to improve his work.

Otherwise, your son could work toward more independence in CTC eventually.

If returning to Preparing does not seem like a fit, you could consider teaching your son more in CTC than we plan, with the thought of moving him toward more independence eventually. I would not hold your daughter back from working independently to do this. Instead, I would let her do the assignments as close to the way they were intended as possible. This means you would work more with your son, but let your daughter be more on her own. Since you shared that your son is able to read the science readings in CTC independently, I would be inclined to think that he could also read the history readings on his own to some extent. This is because the science readings in Land Animals are fairly difficult and are not as far away from the level of the history readings as you’d think.

You could alternate reading by paragraph with him at first.

You could potentially alternate reading by paragraph with him through the history readings, eventually handing more independence over to him. Just know that it is alright if he doesn’t pronounce everything correctly. Students reading to themselves don’t pronounce everything correctly either! If he is able to do most of CTC as written, with the exception of the independent readings, this may be an option.

If you try this and end up modifying almost all of CTC’s written work and readings, I’d place him in Preparing instead.

On the other hand, if you end up modifying almost all of his written work in CTC one way or another, and are modifying the readings by reading them aloud too, then I would be inclined to think he is in over his head in most areas. In this case, he would benefit from Preparing instead. I share this because if you were a new family just coming to HOD for the first time, I would lean heavily toward placing your son in Preparing and your daughter in CTC.

The “Written Narration Tips” are helpful for kiddos who struggle with written narrations.

As far as written narrations go, it’s a good idea to refer to the Written Narration Tips (Teacher’s List) in the back of the CTC guide. This helps give some perspective on how to handle written narrations. There are some tips for kiddos who struggle with written narrations that are very helpful. So, I encourage you to take a look at those as soon as you get a chance.

You can use the helps within the daily plans for writing as well. 

Also, make sure to use the helps within the daily plans of CTC for written narrations as well. Have your kiddos begin by copying the sentence starter provided in the written narration directions box on written narration day. Then, have your kiddos answer their way through the questions provided in the box as a guide for their narration. They can honestly write a one-sentence answer for each question and end up with a good written narration. These helps in CTC bow out more and more as the year progresses. However, they are a huge help in narrating to start. They remain in the Preparing box for written narrations all year though. So, if you do decide to place your son in Preparing those helps would remain.

Balance is key, but we want his year to be joyful – to stretch him a bit but not pull him to the breaking point!

As we ponder options for your son, I want his school year to improve to be joyful and to stretch him a bit but not pull him to the breaking point! Balance is key, and kiddos with challenges need a special dose of grace and very incremental steps to higher expectations skill-wise. Teaching kiddos with learning challenges is a special calling. I know the Lord has equipped you for this task, or He would not have given your son to you. It may be that his areas of challenge are just showing themselves a bit more now as his sister is older and is gaining faster than he is (and rightfully so due to her age). Sometimes the gap between kiddos takes awhile to show itself. It may be that it is just showing itself more now. This just may be the course their academic growth is taking.


Wanting to be further along… Do extra? Or just keep moving forward?

Dear Carrie

I’m wanting to be further along! Should I just do extra each day? Or, should I be okay with where they are and just keep moving forward?

I want my 10 yo to be further in Bigger. My daughter should be further along in English, math, and WWTB in CTC. So, I’m always “catching them up.” I just wasn’t diligent at first, so now I try to do extra each day. I try to do two grammar lessons. If math is shorter, we do another lesson. Today, I did three WWTB lessons, several dictation passages, etc. She can handle the work to an extent, but it takes more time than I realize. Some days I don’t even get to a younger one. Yesterday, I just stuck to the guides and kept moving. I also worked with the CTC child first and then the others. I finally figured out what the other two could do independently while I did CTC. It went so much better! Should I be okay with where they are and just keep moving forward?


“Ms. Wanting to Be Further Along,”

Dear “Ms. Wanting to Be Further Along,”

This is such an interesting question, as it is something that I have learned the hard way myself as we have schooled through the years. Since that time of dawning, I have become a get-it-done, check the box type of teacher. While I do take time to stop and discuss things that are scheduled as discussions in the Heart of Dakota guide, I avoid doubling up on things or pushing on further than planned for the day. I have discovered in the long haul that schooling in this manner means that none of my littles get neglected (which wasn’t the case before when I was so busy pushing my olders or middlers).

It is freeing to do just what is planned in the guide each day!

It is also very freeing to only do what is planned in the guide each day. This way, both you and your students know exactly what to expect. It is like reaching your destination and feeling successful each day that you have reached it! Plus, my boys do not love to have me add things on when they happen to finish early. They feel that free time should be their reward for finishing early, rather than more work! Go figure!

Steadily doing each day’s plans will move you further along and cover a lot of ground through the years.

Honestly, in the long haul just steadily doing what is scheduled each day means that you will move further along and cover a lot of ground through the years. Slow and steady truly does win the race, rather than a sporadic and jumpy pace that omits or adds along the way. Plus, steady progress through the plans leads to a steady rise in skills and an even progression toward higher levels of difficulty which often cannot be rushed. So, before you resort to cramming it in, I want to encourage you to just allow yourself to progress further along at the guide’s pace. For students who are well-placed in their guide the journey will be much more joyful this way!